Barkat Jamal Fakir Troupe
by Ayesha binte Rashid
Traditions, rituals, and practices associated with fakirs vary but the core remains: these are people who have devoted their lives to something beyond what is manifest in this world. Something elusive, perhaps, beyond one’s reach, but for those who seek, it may be just beyond the veil. Barkat Jamal Fakir’s father, Jamaluddin, was a fakir and, before him, his grandfather. Jamaluddin Fakir began teaching Barkat when he was in primary school. Jamaluddin Fakir would wake up every morning, for tahajjud prayers and, after fajr, would wake Barkat up and the two would do riyaaz (vocal practice) until 10:00 a.m. In 1982, when he was in 5th grade, Barkat joined his father’s troupe as part of the chorus. This tradition was a part of their calling, each practice another step towards a greater milestone.
Hussain Bux Fakeer and Sonu Fakeer were also students of Jamaluddin Fakir and the three men have been performing together since they were children, traveling with Jamaluddin Fakeer all over Sindh. They found stages for their message in shrines, religious festivals, weddings and celebrations as they performed.
Today, Barkat is a primary school teacher -- he wakes up, as his father used to, for morning prayers and then does riyaaz till it is time to go to work. At 9:00 a.m. he goes to school and in the evenings he goes to the dargah of Hazrat Manthar Fakir near his village of Jhol. There, with his troupe, he sings qalaam (poetry) in praise of Sufi saints, and the Divine, for the ears of those who have come to pay their respects. The troupe travels all over Sindh, singing in its many shrines, such as that of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and Qadir Bux Bedil. They also sing at weddings, at celebratory gatherings, at festivals. For a Fakir, the cycle must continue, as the soul of a Sufi’s words must flow.
“Wherever we sing, we sing Sufi. That is our color,” says Barkat. This is the life of the modern day fakir. But according to Barkat, to merely live like a fakir does not make you a fakir. “We don’t consider ourselves fakir,” Barkat is quick to say, “God makes you fakir. Becoming a fakir is a difficult task.”
The first step towards fakiri, explains Barkat, is to look inwards, at oneself. To ask oneself, “Who am I?” “Fakirs recognize themselves,” says Barkat, through deep introspection, they have come to recognize themselves seeing who they are for what they are -- they have held a mirror to what is inside and at times, what is ugly. And they are prepared to fight against it. “They take charge of their existence.”
Fakiri goes beyond spiritual exploration. The path of Truth weaves through this world. And so, for a fakir, the treatment of those who inhabit this world is of immense value. To a fakir, the purpose of humanity is to worship the Divine, but fakiri principles dictate that Creation itself is also worthy of love, as this stems back to the Creator that one worships -- why not show love to all creation? “Whoever gives respect to another human, they are God’s most beloved.” Barkat advises.
While they may not consider themselves fakir, Barkat Jamal and his troupe consider it farz (obligated) upon them to carry on the work of fakiri. It is their duty, they say, to bring to the people the message of the great Sufi poets and saints that have lived before us. These are messages of love and of humanity, messages they consider more relevant now than ever. In a world that may take polarizing strides, perhaps messages of empathy can contribute perspective and unity as after all, we are of one ultimate Creation. This is the purpose of the Fakirs and so they continue in their travels.